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Winning the battle for bandwidth in tomorrow’s city centres

The UK is likely to see a ten-fold rise in mobile data usage over the next five years, fuelled by an insatiable consumer appetite for on demand video services. As data streams swell into data floods, fulfilling that demand becomes essential to attracting investment and remaining competitive. 

With analysts predicting an exponential increase in demand for wireless data services, delivering future-proofed network infrastructure has emerged as a vital element in city planning.

Data consumption in Western Europe is set to rise from around 1.9GB per month to 18GB per month.

Millennials not only represent the workforce of tomorrow, they also represent a new generation of digital natives with no experience of a world without YouTube. Talk might be cheap, as the saying goes, but overuse of mobile data is not, which is why so many millennials – especially the 35% under the age of 25 – believe that paying for internet access is a thing of the past.

The way to avoid exorbitant mobile data fees is to switch to WiFi, but unless you have a serious caffeine addiction and are willing to sit in Starbucks or Costa all day, accessing consistent public WiFi remains a challenge for most. According to the Digital High Street 2020 Report, nearly 43% of UK consumers are frustrated by the lack of free, public WiFi networks.

Around one in four people (24%) would be more likely to stay longer in a town or city centre that offered access to free WiFi.

It’s clear that to attract digitally-engaged customers, especially the affluent under-35 millennial segment, city centres have to meet this demand for always-online connectivity. However, to be viable, free-to-use public WiFi is dependent on the quality of its underlying broadband infrastructure.

Since November 2016, residents, businesses and visitors in Edinburgh have been able to enjoy a new free-to-access public WiFi network across the city centre. It’s the result of a 10-year WiFi concession, agreed with intechnologyWiFi that has seen Council-owned street furniture made accessible for the new WiFi network.

In addition to providing opportunities for local advertisers to reach out to consumers directly, the new infrastructure has also helped to boost capacity on the existing 4G mobile data network and paves the way for the roll out of a future 5G mobile data network. So how has this been possible?

UK’s largest Gigabit City

The answer lies beneath the pavements and roads of Scotland’s capital. Thanks to a collaboration between digital infrastructure builder CityFibre and local provider Commsworld, catalysed by the City of Edinburgh Council and driven by demand from local businesses, a groundbreaking 150km pure fibre optic network now criss-crosses Edinburgh. The resulting network establishes the city as the UK’s largest Gigabit City.

“It is a real coup for businesses and local services,” said James McClafferty, CityFibre’s Head of Regional Development in Scotland. “Since we launched the Edinburgh CORE network last summer we’ve delivered a truly transformational project.

“Future-proofing is key to all our Gigabit City deployments.” James continues. “When we build network, we are not just taking a single fibre into each site, we are laying down cables containing thousands of fibres, enough to meet the future demands of the entire city. What is more, with each new customer connection, we are extending the reach of our network to address even more sites across the city.”

"With the fibre network now in place, we're seeing the number of interested businesses increase rapidly, attracted by potential speeds of anywhere up to 40Gbps," adds Andy Arkle, commercial director, Commsworld.

That offer was further boosted in early 2017 with the opening of a 50-mile long dark fibre span linking the recently launched Fortis datacentre in North Lanarkshire and the Pulsant’s datacentre in western Edinburgh. This offers operating speeds of up to 100Gb/s between the two linked data centres. Businesses with offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow can now enjoy some of the fastest data connections in the UK.

Transforming education

The project started as a more humble installation, resulting from the UK Government’s Super Connected Cities programme. In 2014, when Commsworld first joined forces with CityFibre to deliver what was then a 40km-long network, The City of Edinburgh Council identified an opportunity to expand the network. A vision emerged to connect every school, library and Council-run site to the new fibre optic network.

 “We wanted a network that could meet future need, enabling staff to be more mobile, paving the way for more online services,” explained Ritchie Somerville, Innovation and Futures Manager at The City of Edinburgh Council. “Edinburgh has always been at the vanguard of digital learning across our schools estate and we wanted to support that journey.”

The result is an education estate in which all secondary schools have access to a 1Gbps network, while all primary schools can access bandwidths of 100Mbps. Each system has full redundancy, with at least two fibres going into each school site. All Council libraries, a focus for community activity, are now on a 100Mbps network and Council offices across Edinburgh are also connected to the Edinburgh CORE network.

“We believe that Edinburgh now has the fastest school estate in the UK” says Ritchie Somerville. “Not only will our high schools be running on a 1Gbps service, they can dial that up to 10Gbps relatively easily in the future,” adds Ritchie. “That additional connectivity and flexibility is paving the way for the digital classroom of the future.”

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com

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Copeland must be Labour's final warning

Unison's general secretary says Jeremy Corbyn is a friend - but must also take responsibility for turning the party's prospects around. 

No one objective could argue that last night’s by-election results were good for Labour.

Whilst it was undoubtedly pleasing to see serial fibber Paul Nuttall and his Trumpian politics put in their place in Stoke, this was never a seat where the result should have been in doubt. 

But to lose Copeland – held by Labour for 83 years – to a party that has inflicted seven years of painful spending cuts on our country, and is damaging the NHS, is disastrous.

Last autumn, I said that Labour had never been farther from government in my lifetime. Five months on the party hasn’t moved an inch closer to Downing Street.

These results do not imply a party headed for victory. Copeland is indicative of a party sliding towards irrelevance. Worse still, Labour faces an irrelevance felt most keenly by those it was founded to represent.

There will be those who seek to place sole blame for this calamity at the door of Jeremy Corbyn. They would be wrong to do so. 

The problems that Labour has in working-class communities across the country did not start with Corbyn’s leadership. They have existed for decades, with successive governments failing to support them or even hear their calls for change. Now these communities are increasingly finding outlets for their understandable discontent.

During the 2015 election, I knocked on doors on a large council estate in Edmonton – similar to the one I grew up on. Most people were surprised to see us. The last time they’d seen Labour canvassers was back in 1997. Perhaps less surprisingly, the most common response was why would any of them bother voting Labour.

As a party we have forgotten our roots, and have arrogantly assumed that our core support would stay loyal because it has nowhere else to go. The party is now paying the price for that complacency. It can no longer ignore what it’s being told on the doorstep, in workplaces, at ballot boxes and in opinion polls.

Unison backed Corbyn in two successive leadership elections because our members believed – and I believe – he can offer a meaningful and positive change in our politics, challenging the austerity that has ravaged our public services. He is a friend of mine, and a friend of our union. He has our support, because his agenda is our agenda.

Yet friendship and support should never stand in the way of candour. True friends don’t let friends lose lifelong Labour seats and pretend everything is OK. Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party, so while he should not be held solely responsible for Labour’s downturn, he must now take responsibility for turning things around.

That means working with the best talents from across the party to rebuild Labour in our communities and in Parliament. That means striving for real unity – not just the absence of open dissent. That means less debate about rule changes and more action on real changes in our economy and our society.

Our public servants and public services need an end to spending cuts, a change that can only be delivered by a Labour government. 

For too many in the Labour party the aim is to win the debate and seize the perceived moral high ground – none of which appears to be winning the party public support. 

But elections aren’t won by telling people they’re ignorant, muddle-headed or naive. Those at the sharp end – in particular the millions of public service employees losing their jobs or facing repeated real-terms pay cuts – cannot afford for the party to be so aloof.

Because if you’re a homecare worker earning less than the minimum wage with no respite in sight, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

If you’re a nurse working in a hospital that’s constantly trying to do more with less, you need an end to austerity and a Labour government.

And if you’re a teaching assistant, social worker or local government administrator you desperately need an end to austerity, and an end to this divisive government.

That can only happen through a Labour party that’s winning elections. That has always been the position of the union movement, and the Labour party as its parliamentary wing. 

While there are many ways in which we can change society and our communities for the better, the only way to make lasting change is to win elections, and seize power for working people.

That is, and must always be, the Labour party’s cause. Let Copeland be our final warning, not the latest signpost on the road to decline.

Dave Prentis is Unison's general secretary.